In less than two months, China has seen six cases of men charging into schools and kindergartens to kill and hurt children. On April 28, 29, and 30, there was one incident per day in three separate cities. On Wednesday, a man with a cleaver killed seven children and two adults in a central China kindergarten, while on Saturday the man behind the April 29 attack was sentenced to death for stabbing 29 children in an eastern province. The situation has become not only very dark, but very surreal.
News like this spurs social criticism and debate on the faults of modern society. But what these child killers stirred up was a backlash against freedom of the press in China. An angry article on an official government website blamed sensationalist reporting for the copycat killing spree in small Chinese cities. After the article came demands by the public for the press to be banned from reporting on any further incidents.
Getting even seems to be very important to the Chinese. Forgiveness is definitely not in vogue. It’s scary sometimes.
Amid all the hurt and confusion, there was, for a couple of weeks, a public push to further regulate the media in China. I was a bit taken aback by the whole debate. It made me wonder seriously whether this country is ready for democracy. Maybe we have been told what to think for so long, we have lost our common sense. Take this debate on media responsibility—the public has confused two completely separate issues: freedom of the press and media control during a criminal investigation. Talk about shooting the messenger.
But it doesn’t surprise me. So often, conversations in China become warped. And our society in general is prone to vengeful violence. The fact that the killers used hammers and other blunt objects to commit these crimes shows that they are not hardcore criminals who have access to serious weapons. It means that otherwise, these very disturbed people could have looked quite normal walking down the street. Thank goodness guns are illegal in this country. Getting even seems to be very important to the Chinese. Forgiveness is definitely not in vogue. It’s scary sometimes.
Fortunately, several Chinese magazines have finally started to do in-depth reporting on the child killings and have tried to diagnose the social maladies that might have caused such crazy behavior. The articles note that none of the killers wanted to get away with murder—they all attempted to commit suicide. And some other reasonable theories have begun to surface. Caijing, a leading financial magazine, speculated that Chinese frustration with the lack of an independent justice system, wrongs that are not righted, and the little guy who cannot be heard have led to desperate acts like this.
To kill children in a country with a one-child policy is a knife aimed at everyone’s heart. Caijing noted that when the weak prey on the weaker, it is the most desperate kind of cry for public attention. Unfortunately, I don’t think the public has heard this message. Southern Weekend, a popular weekly, ran a story with the headline “Now That He Is Executed, We Are All Relieved” on the day the first murderer was executed. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Yet no one has lit a candle for all the dead children. Sympathy is a scarce commodity in this country unless it is a natural disaster. These kind of incidents are dealt with and quickly forgotten, because they are embarrassing to the country.
So I was relieved when Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in an interview with Phoenix TV in Hong Kong that the child murders reflect deep social problems in China. Thank goodness the prime minister actually recognizes that fact—and didn’t blame the killings on freedom of the press.
Huang Hung is a columnist for China Daily, the English language newspaper in China. She is also an avid blogger with more than 100 million page views on her blog on sina.com.